FRANKLIN COUNTY, OH (WCMH) – Drug users in Columbus and Whitehall will soon be able to test their drugs for fentanyl.
Health officials in both cities will soon be distributing fentanyl test strips, hoping to help avoid accidental overdoses.
The Franklin County Coroner said fentanyl has been fueling the increase of overdose deaths in the area. In 2017, fentanyl-related overdose death accounted for 66.5% of all overdoses.
Columbus Public Health and the Whitehall Division of Fire (https://www.whitehall-oh.us/426/Whitehalls-Help-for-Overdoses) hope users will start testing their drugs for the extremely potent and deadly synthetic opiate.
“They might not always be ready for treatment, but that doesn’t mean that they’re ready to die,” said Columbus health commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts.
She said about two people die each day in Franklin County from an opiate overdose. Many of those death are because of fentanyl.
“This is a program that can help them have one more chance of using their drug without overdosing and dying,” said Dr. Roberts. “One more chance to get into treatment.”
The pilot program is called Project LIFE (Limiting Involuntary Fentanyl Exposure).
She said users will be able to take a small sample of the drug, mix it with water and use the test strip to see if it has fentanyl in it.
“If it does have fentanyl, the user can decide how and if they want to use the drug,” said Dr. Roberts. “What we’re hoping is either they will not use the drug at all and discard it or potentially give it back to the dealer or use it in micro-dosing, so a smaller dose than they normally would take to see how their body adjusts and reacts to it.”
The test strip will come with instructions and a QR code that users can scan to take a survey on their smartphone.
“We hope they tag that (QR code) with their phone and take a quick survey letting us know how they thought the test strips worked,” said Dr. Roberts. “Were they user-friendly? Was it positive? Was it negative? And then, what they chose to do if it was positive.”
Columbus Public Health is preparing to distribute the test strips at places drug users frequent. They will soon be available at Equitas Health in the Short North, which is also where the needle exchange program is held.
In Whitehall, assistant fire chief Christopher Menapace said the city’s over dose death rate is five times higher than the county average.
“By 2020, we want to reduce the deaths in overdose by 20%,” he said. “That’s our goal.”
The Whitehall Division of Fire is getting ready to distribute the strips and Narcan during a town hall meeting at the Victory Ministries Center of Hope on June 28th. Community paramedics will also be passing them out.
“It’s controversial. It’s extremely controversial,” said Chief Menapace. “We are very fortunate to have elected officials in this community that are willing to go out there and say, ‘Hey it doesn’t matter if it’s popular or not, this will save lives.'”
Columbus Public Health said it purchased 1,000 test strips at $1 each for this pilot program.
Dr. Roberts always suggests users to have Narcan or naloxone nearby in case of an overdose.